Aulus smiled at his daughter's sudden enthusiasm as she set out four more of her small treasures. "That one means luck," he said, indicating the one with the hole in. "And this one... May I?" He picked up the blue and held it up to the light. Sea-glass, he thought - or river-glass, at least, though there was no reason it could not have been discovered at Baiae. "I am buying Titus something that he would like, but of course you don't want the same as him, because he's a boy and you're a girl. But I would like to buy you something for yourself - would you like me to have this one made into a necklace for you to wear, like one of Mama's?"
Though not, probably, on as delicate a chain. It would be a very pretty thing that she could wear on special occasions as she grew up, though she might be a little young for such things - he had no idea what little girls of five liked, when it came to adornments, after all, and looked up at Horatia and Titus, who could be Penelope and Telemachus, or Andromache and Astyanax or any of a dozen other legendary women and their sons.
He could not help the smile that came as he realised both of the named women were famed for their devotion and constancy, though they had suffered as a result of war (Andromache more, perhaps, with the loss of her son after Troy fell).
"Very much - it makes a great change from supply lists and drills, and a very pleasant change at that," he said, returning his attention to Calpurnia.
Aulus took the offered pebbles. The one from Grandtata's garden was striped and the other... he turned it in his hand, noting how it sparkled in the sunlight. A pale gold, similar to the colour of her hair.
"Do you know, I think Grandtata is right? It's very nearly the colour of your hair, after all." He adjusted his position, reclining on one elbow to bring him more onto Calpurnia's level as she sat there, and spread his pallium out, putting the two stones neatly on the fabric. "We won't lose them, this way," he explained. "What other treasures do you have in there?"
He was infinitely grateful that this was a private corner of the Gardens, and even more grateful that neither Titus Sulpicius Rufus nor Lucius Cassius Longinus were anywhere near Rome - especially Longinus. He'd never hear the end of it if Longinus found out he ever had this sort of conversation with anyone. Bringing miscreants to justice was far more the sort of thing those two knew him for (and offering much-needed common sense when he did it, too) - and this was as far from that situation as Britannia was from Rome.
(Why, yes. Yes, I did refer to That Thread with the three of them. It took place before this, after all! 😄 )
Aulus spent a few minutes more with his son, demonstrating how best to hold and wield his sword before saying, "I think you've got it. Why don't you practise that for a bit while Calpurnia shows me her pebbles?"
He would rather spend the time with his son, mostly because he understood the sorts of things Titus was interested in, but there would be time for that, and he also wanted to have some sort of relationship with his daughter. He sat down again, before looking at Calpurnia.
"What do you want to show me, sweetie?" he asked, though the picture of Horatia and Calpurnia together was almost too pretty for him to want to interrupt. Two fair heads together, one with rose-gold hair and the other with pale gold, and tried to think what figures in mythology they could be - before Calpurnia looked up at her mother with a question in her expression that Aulus couldn't decipher.
"If I spread my pallium out a little, you won't lose any in the grass, either," he said.
"Well, Calpurnia, I'm going to be here in Rome for a while yet - a long time, to get to know you and Titus, and then after that I will probably be made a governor somewhere and I'll take all of you with me." Governors, being in post for several years, could reasonably expect to take their families with them, of course, and Aulus didn't expect that his career would deviate from the expected norms again. "Although it depends on what the Emperor says, of course."
Titus' sword was a well-balanced thing, even for a toy; Uncle Publius had chosen well (not that Aulus expected anything else of a doting uncle who happened also to be a professional military man).
"Did Uncle Publius show you how to hold it?" he asked, looking at Titus' grip, which was nearly right. He shifted to one knee, to make it easier, and reached to carefully adjust his son's grip. "There, like that - we use the very tip, which is why we hold it like that. And of course, you ought to have a shield on your other arm. We'll have to get you one as well as the scabbard, I think."
Aulus smiled and stretched before joining the others on the ground; it was a warm day - warmer in Italia than in Britannia, of course - and the grass was soft. He didn't really care what the slaves would say if he returned with grass-stains on his clothes. He didn't even particularly care what anyone else would think if they noticed he had grass-stains, either.
"No, not like this - it is a very wild country indeed, and the people there live in villages of round houses, some of the made of stone but most made from dried mud, and with roofs made from straw - nothing like our houses here, at all. But there are people there who want to have towns like we do, with temples and forums and gardens, so they are beginning to build them, in the south at the moment. It will all look very different when you are my age, I'm sure, and maybe you'll see for yourself one day."
He noticed Titus fiddling with his sword. "May I see it? It looks a very good sword - a proper gladius, in fact."
Titus pulled it out and handed it over, a little hesitantly. Aulus took it, holding it as he would his own sword, though it was much smaller and much lighter, being made for a child and not someone of Aulus' size. "Thank you," he said, offering it back, hilt first. "Do you think I could borrow it, maybe when you are doing your school-work, so that I can get it measured for a scabbard? It would be much easier to carry that way, after all."
"I would rather discuss it and come to a mutual decision, than merely agree with your ideas - or veto them," Aulus said quietly. A marriage didn't have two equal partners, of course, but he was not going to ride rough-shod over anything she did, and wanted her to know that he respected her. Wherever his next posting took him, she would be running the household - he could not do that and do his duties (probably running a province, if his cursus honorum went according to plan and precedent).
They were so new to all of this that she probably expected him to dictate every decision, and yet she had made every decision for herself and the children for the past five years.
He took his son's hand, grateful that his children seemed to be coming out of their shyness a little, and was towed to a quiet spot with a fountain, shielded from view.
"Oh, how delightful," he exclaimed. He had had no notion such a place existed - it had been many years since he had last visited the Gardens of Sallust, after all, but even when he had been in Rome, he had not really explored the gardens. "I think it's lovely, Titus," he said, looking down at his son, who had let go of his hand and was standing, looking slightly nervous, though that look dissolved into a beaming smile at his father's words.
"Where shall we sit, do you think?" he asked. The grass looked soft, and there was a marble bench nearby - though he would sit wherever the others did, and did not really expect the children to want to sit on the bench. This was a place made for being at ease, after all, and Aulus could shed his dignitas in private and come down to his children's level, at least for a little while.
"Well, you're not going to be popular," Aulus said with a shrug, stretching his legs out in front of him and crossing them at the ankle. "But then, none of us are where we and doing what we do because we wanted to be popular." He had noticed Titus bristling again - the man seemed about as touchy as a porcupine and Aulus couldn't keep smoothing ruffled feathers. "They'll be building proper stone forts before we know it, though. There is a decentish bath-house here, though - might not be on the level of any of the thermae in Rome, but small steps." He shrugged. One day, Britannia might well have proper thermae it could boast about, but not today - and not right here, either.
"If anyone feels you're being harsh, though, these men have stolen from them just as much as from anyone else, in the end." He steepled his fingers. "As far as I know, the slave trader is not a citizen, no, though Longinus doubtless knows better than I whether that is the case, or not. And by the sounds of it, he merely bought the slaves and had nothing to do with the initial theft of them. He should have checked his sources better and not entered into a private arrangement, so that should be reinforced - to himself, and to the other traders following the legion. Confiscation of his merchandise and being forbidden to trade with the legions would do that - and potentially recoup some of the losses. If this was only discovered days ago, he may still have some of those stolen slaves, anyway. It must take longer than five days to dispose of over a hundred slaves - especially as the man is likely to still be around, rather than heading to somewhere to sell them."
The greatest punishment lay before those who had made the original thefts.
Something else occurred to him then. "Longinus... who was it who certified the deaths of the slaves? Is there a medicus on the take, too?"
"Which brother? Both of them, if they are in Rome to come to a dinner party - and Livia, too," Aulus replied. "Did you?" he said to his daughter. "She has a very important job - did she tell you about it, at all?"
He felt a pang, that he could not have introduced his own children to their aunt, and watched her with them, but it was momentary and served to reaffirm that whatever his next posting outside of Rome, he would petition Caesar for his appointment to be one where his family could accompany him; he had missed too much of their short lives already and did not want to miss any more. He wondered what Calpurnia Praetextata would have made of her namesake, and what his daughter would have made of her aunt, with the Vestals' distinctive headdress and garb.
"I don't think young children are good at being patient, shall we lengthen our stride a little? I can carry Calpurnia, if it proves hard for her to keep up," he said quietly to Horatia, smiling in Titus' direction.
"That is something anyone who runs an estate from a distance has to be wary of," Aulus said dryly. "Although I can imagine it would be harder for someone in your position, of course. Does your brother not wish to help keep your stewards and others honest?"
He could imagine that her brother would have his own affairs to deal with, but were Aulus' own sister in a similar predicament, he could not imagine abrogating all responsibility and leaving her to fend for herself (although Calpurnia Praetextata was a soon-to-retire Vestal and therefore had more legal rights of her own than the majority of women - and his father was not as far from Rome as Sestia Vaticana's was, so Tiberius could advocate for Calpurnia Praetextata just as well as Aulus.
His father was lucky in having a reliable vilicus to oversee his own estates - and a shrewd eye of his own to spot anything untoward in the books, though Aulus suspected that some of that was down to his also having a sharp-eyed and sharp-witted secretary. The biggest fiddle Aulus himself had ever seen was back in Britannia when someone had tried to pull the wool over Longinus' eyes and got greedy - which was how the whole scheme had come to light in the first place.
"I think that is an excellent idea," Aulus said. "Though frankly I may struggle to think who is in Rome at the moment! Your brother will be invited if he is around, of course." It would almost be easier to list who was not in Rome at the present moment - Longinus and Titus Sulpicius were elsewhere, of course. He had no idea whether Titus Flavius was in Rome, though he could make a shrewd guess that Octavius Flavius was. "I have no idea whether Vestal are permitted to join family dinners for their recently returned brothers, but it would be nice to have Calpurnia there - your aunt Calpurnia Praetextata," he said, looking down at his daughter and rolling his eyes inwardly at the lack of creativity when it came to female naming conventions.
It was nice to walk in the spring sunshine with his family - he noted more than one envious or admiring look thrown in their direction, but ignored them, as befit a patrician in the presence of those of lesser rank.
Re-establishing his connections with those in power would only serve to benefit him, and remind them of his loyalty, which could not hurt.
"I will have to pay my respects to Quintus Augustus too, of course," he added, thinking aloud.